Secrets held in archives

A collection of documents that throw light on how Indian leaders contrived to keep Kashmir in India.

Published : Apr 10, 2019 12:30 IST

India’s archival policy is an outrageous mess. The authorities in the National Archives of India are extremely helpful. But files are not released speedily to them by the government for perusal by scholars. Our academics seem uninterested; otherwise, they would have waged a sustained, spirited campaign for access to records, which are open in every democratic society—except in India. An Indian scholar who wants to study the Simla Convention of 1914 and the drawing of the McMahon Line has to go to the British Library in London. In India, access is barred to records after 1913, though there are nearly a dozen books, Indian and foreign, which have drawn on the records in London. The doyen of scholars on the India-China boundary dispute, Professor Parshottam L. Mehra, had to consult British archives to write his excellent book on the McMahon Line.

The 30-year rule is on paper. Records of border areas are closed from January 1, 1914, while those relating to Jammu and Kashmir are open only up to December 31, 1924. The Indian Historical Records Commission should bestir itself.

For more than 10 years, the editor of the volume under review, Lionel Carter, was a member of the team that produced the British government’s series Documents on the Transfer of Power to India, 1942-47 . From 1980 until 1999, he served as Secretary and Librarian of the Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge. Apart from this work, Carter has published 15 volumes with Manohar: Chronicles of British Business in Asia, 1850-1960 (2002); Mountbatten’s Report on the Last

Viceroyalty (2003); five volumes of Punjab Governors’ Reports (2004-2007); three volumes of United Provinces Governors’ Reports covering 1936 to 1939 (2008-10); two volumes entitled Partition Observed , which relate to the months August to December in 1947 (2011); two volumes called Weakened States Seeking Renewal (2013) which document South Asia from January to April, 1948; and, most recently, Completing the First Year of Independence: British Official Reports from South Asia, 1 May-17 September 1948 (2016).

Sadly, he has not decided to produce a similar volume on the Kashmir dispute from, say, 1946 to 1953, on the basis of British records, to wit, reports, until 1947, of British Residents in the State, from members of the British High Commission and Deputy High Commission in India and Pakistan, and, not least, from the Reports of Lord Mountbatten, Governor-General of India. He freely and most improperly shared with the British High Commissioner in New Delhi, Sir Archibald Nye, former Governor of Madras Presidency, the secret deliberations of the Nehru Cabinet. So did the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Roy Bucher. His predecessor, General Sir Robert Lockhart, was unceremoniously sacked because he did not reveal to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru information of a tribal raid into Kashmir which he had acquired from his Pakistani counterpart, Sir Frank Messervey. It is more than likely that if the information had been transmitted to his bosses, the raid would have been aborted and there might have been no Pakistan Administered Kashmir (Major K.C. Praval, Indian Army After Independence, Lancer, page 49).

Archival research is indispensable in the pursuit of historical truth. Public figures show one face in public and another in private. From 1947 to 1953, Nehru beat his breast publicly in affirmation of his pledge to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. In private, he ruled it out at the very outset, notably, when he met Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in Paris on October 30, 1948. The British High Commissioner in Pakistan, Sir Lawrence Grafftey-Smith, conveyed to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, Philip Noel-Baker, on November 11 a message by Liaquat Ali Khan to the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee: “He (Nehru) put forward the proposition that either Pakistan should accept the U.N. Commission’s resolution of 13th August without any proviso regarding conditions for a free and impartial plebiscite, or should accept the existing line of division between Azad Kashmir and the rest of the State as permanent. These two alternatives really mean the same thing since if the Commission’s resolution is accepted without any qualification regarding a free and impartial plebiscite, the existing line of division will in fact become permanent.” Nehru repeated this publicly at a rally in New Delhi on April 13, 1956.

Archives also reveal interesting and unsuspected bits of information. On November 15, Sikkim’s ruler told a British official in Calcutta (now Kolkata): “The Chinese have made no further move to contact Sikkim although the Maharaj Kumar confirms that Bhutan hinted to Nehru that if he did not give them satisfactory terms in their Treaty, they might look for better terms from China.”

Kashmiris and their leader, Sheikh Abdullah, were systematically cheated by Nehru. The volume establishes that there was not the slightest possibility of Kashmir’s independence at any time, which is understandable, or of a plebiscite, which is indefensible. Nehru had set his face against a plebiscite from the very outset. The United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP), which was supposed to hold one, was a house divided. Its members reported to the British and the Americans in secret. It had no enthusiasm for a plebiscite, either. Note these steps.

1. The Deputy High Commissioner in Karachi reported to London on September 22, 1948: “Dr Lozano of the Kashmir Commission told a member of my staff yesterday evening that Commission was thinking more and more in terms of partition as the only feasible solution and hinted that this would be recommended to Security Council in report which Commission proposes to prepare in Geneva. He did not indicate the lines of partition.”

2. The Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi, Alexander Symon, reported on September 24: “India would probably argue that the predominantly Dogra areas must form part of the Indian Union. She would also press her claims for the Vale of Kashmir and Ladakh, though she perhaps might agree to their future being decided by a plebiscite. India would also lay emphasis on her strategic requirements; the need for a natural and easily defensible frontier.

“Pakistan would presumably lay claim to a much larger part of the State (a) on grounds of religious affinity and (b) because of her long-term strategic and economic needs. It seems certain that she would inter alia take the line that the canal system of the West Punjab is vital to the very existence of Western Pakistan and therefore that (1) the territory in which the various headworks are located—in some cases they are in Kashmir—must form an integral part of the Dominion of Pakistan and (2) where the headworks are in the West Punjab but are fed from rivers flowing through the Indian Union, India must give a guarantee (perhaps to be filed with the U.N.) that there will be no diversion or shutting off of water as happened earlier this year in the case of the Sutlej. In addition Pakistan would probably lay claim to the mineral deposits of the Kashmir State (e.g. coal in the Riasi District).”

3. Karachi was Pakistan’s capital then. The High Commissioner in Pakistan, Grafftey-Smith, wrote to Sir Paul Patrick, Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO), on November 13: “To us here, the only feasible line seems to be the Chenab River. The fact that there exist, as the sketch attached to your letter of 27th October shows, two small areas south of the Chenab in which there may be a small Muslim majority and one area north of the river in which, according to the 1931 census, Hindus predominate, does not make it impossible to adopt this as the best possible boundary between Pakistan and India. The transfer, for example, of the Hindu population north of the Chenab to those parts of Riasi and Udhampur south of the river, in which there is a possible Muslim majority, and vice versa, is not a matter of such difficulty as to make adoption of the river as a boundary an impossibility. The Ladakh Tahsil, in which there is a large Buddhist majority, would, of course, be entirely cut off from India if the river Chenab became the boundary between India and Pakistan; but it is in any case so isolated that I do not think the question of its future should affect the partition issue. It would be out of the question to hold a plebiscite in Ladakh as part of the combined scheme of partition-cum-plebiscite, because it can only be readily approached through the Kashmir Valley, and a decision in the Kashmir Valley in favour of Pakistan would make it impossible to implement a vote in favour of India by the Buddhists of Ladakh and vice versa. I fear that the last sentence in paragraph 5 of your letter of 27 October may encourage over-optimistic thinking. Reliable reports suggest that Muslim majority areas have already been converted into non-Muslim majority areas by persecution and mass migration.”

4. Opponents of plebiscite were no wiser than the proponents of a plebiscite. It was a facile knee-jerk reaction. Frederick Mainprice, formerly of the Indian Political Service, told an official in the High Commission in Karachi on December 15, 1948. that he was opposed to a plebiscite. But read this: “Mr. Mainprice rules out the possibility of partition altogether. He was not impressed by the argument that the original Hindu areas of Jammu (roughly speaking, the area south of the Chenab River) should revert to India, bringing forward geographical, economic and strategic arguments against any portion of Jammu, except possibly a small strip along the south-east border of Kathua district, being ceded to India. The geographical and economic argument is that the Chenab Valley and communications to the south of it in the Jammu Vale all lead down toward Gujarat and Sialkot in the West Punjab. Jammu’s normal economic outlet is by the railway and road leading out direct to Sialkot. The strategic argument is that partition along the Chenab would give India control of a further lengthy dangerous salient into Pakistan; it would, furthermore, put India in complete control of the Ravi headworks at Madhopur and possibly enable her to interfere with the Chenab.”

His alternative was absurd: “Since Mr. Mainprice had thus ruled out both plebiscite and partition, I asked him what political solution he had to offer. He suggested that the future of the State as a whole should be decided by a U.N. Fact Finding Commission. It would be necessary for the Commission to be briefed in detail regarding the nature of the enquiries it was to make and the basis on which it was to form its judgment and, of course, for both parties to the dispute to agree in advance to abide by its findings—a procedure very similar to the partition of India and not, therefore, particularly likely to commend itself to either side. The principal factors on which the Commission should base its findings were, in Mr. Mainprice’s view, in their order of importance: (i) Geography, (ii) Economics, (iii) Strategy, (iv) The will of the people, and the Commission must be careful to enquire into the position as on 15th August. It was Mr. Mainprice’s idea that the Commission’s brief would have to be laid down authoritatively by the Security Council itself, and India’s and Pakistan’s agreement to accept the Commission’s findings, if necessary forced on them by the Council.” The absurdity of this approach is evident.

5. Dr Alfredo Lozano of the U.N. Commission was a particularly active and slippery character. He met Nehru on December 20, 1948, and reported to the British High Commissioner, Archibald Nye, who in turn, reported all that to London. “He (Nehru) pointed out that the previous proposals provided for both a plebiscite and for direct negotiation between the two governments and these suggestions had been placed side by side as more or less alternative plans, whereas in the new proposals the plebiscite was given priority and he did not like this. Lozano pointed out to him that the new proposals did not exclude the possibility of an agreement between the two governments if the arrangements for the plebiscite failed; it merely placed the different methods of solution in an order of priority.”

Why then did Nehru accept the UNCIP’s resolution of January 5, 1949, on plebiscite which laid down all the details of a plebiscite? The next day he told Sheikh Abdullah that a plebiscite would not be held but that he should keep this to himself. Given this incontrovertible historical record, are you surprised that Kashmiris are in revolt today?

Sheikh Abdullah’s regret

There is incontrovertible evidence that Abdullah bitterly regretted accession to India within days of the event. In Nehru’s presence, he suggested accession to both countries to a British Minister, Patrick Gordon-Walker, on February 21, 1948. At the U.N. Security Council in January-February 1948, he approached Pakistan’s delegates but was snubbed. He complained about this to President Ayub Khan in May 1964. This volume confirms that he was a committed Kashmiri to the marrow of his bones.

In this, as on much else, Pakistan sinned against the light, hubris prevailing over sense. Robert Burnett, the Deputy H.C. in Karachi, informed Noel-Baker on September 18: “The Pakistan government had good reasons to believe that Abdullah was anxious to come to terms with Azad leaders and would do so if the Indian government would countenance a settlement. Could not H.M.G. intervene and persuade India now to make a gesture which would bring peace to the subcontinent and allow both governments to devote their energies to the many very urgent matters requiring their attention.”

Abdullah was always for a pact with Chaudhury Ghulam Abbas, leader of the rival Muslim Conference. Brigadier J.F. Walker, Military Adviser to the High Commissioner in Pakistan, gave to Major-General H. Redman, Director of Military Operations at the British War Office, a detailed assessment, on September 24, 1948, in which he revealed: “I asked the D.M.O. if he knew anything about the reported approach by Abdullah to Ibrahim. Sher Khan told me that the approach had been made through him (he did not say how). Apparently what Abdullah suggested was an Independent Kashmir with Ghulam Abbas and Ibrahim at the head and Abdullah holding some post in the Government. This was NOT Pakistan’s or Azad’s idea of a settlement, but it proves that Abdullah has been working behind the scenes.”

UNCIP’s role

The UNCIP comes out very poorly, indeed. The United States State Department freely sent instruction to its American member, Jerome Klahr Huddle. One “instructed the American delegate to make sure that the Commission reported on the plebiscite question as the main issue and did not indulge in dangerous legal speculations. It may perhaps be relevant to refer to a dispatch dated 3 October from the New York Times Geneva Correspondent which appeared in the Lahore English papers on 8 October. The American journalist stated that U.N.C.I.P. had no useful suggestions to make for the future settlement of the Kashmir dispute, but that its report to the Security Council ‘would probably contain no condemnation of either India or Pakistan’.”

The United Kingdom’s High Commissioner in New Delhi told Noel-Baker on November 29: “General Bucher indiscreetly admitted to my Military Adviser on 26 November that all the papers of the Kashmir Commission when they were in Srinagar had been borrowed without the Commission’s knowledge and copied for the Indian government. Those filed included General Gracey’s own confidential and detailed appreciation for the Pakistan Army’s role in Kashmir hostilities, prepared for the Commission’s information and guidance.”

One man who emerges with great credit in all published documents is V.P. Menon, Secretary in the Ministry of States and Vallabhbhai Patel’s right-hand man. He was close to Mountbatten and succeeded in helping him to avert India’s attack on Pakistan in September 1947—on, of all places, Junagadh. He dined with Alexander Symon, Acting High Commissioner, on October 6. Menon said: “As regards Kashmir, we have had a series of high-level discussions, and have considered our alternatives: (1) Kashmir to remain independent; (2) Kashmir to decide the issue of accession to one Dominion or the other by an overall plebiscite; (3) The issue to be decided by independent arbitration; (4) Division of the State between Pakistan and India.

“After discussion, the first three alternatives were rejected. I may mention that on the question of a plebiscite I put forward in discussion that we could not settle the issue on this basis before the end of 1949. This leaves the sore open for another year, and I deprecate this with all the emphasis of my command. The only practical alternative therefore is division. Departing from the proposal I put forward to you, namely that the predominantly Muslim areas in Poonch, Mirpur and Muzaffarabad to go to Pakistan, and the rest of Jammu to go to India, with a plebiscite under neutral agency in the Vale, I now propose very strongly that we should divide on the basis of the territories at present occupied or controlled by Pakistan or India as the case may be. In these discussions both Panditji and Sheikh Abdullah were present. What I was anxious to obtain in these discussions was a natural boundary between India and Pakistan. If agreement on this basis is reached, the military authorities on both sides should, I feel sure, be able to delimitate [ sic ] a boundary which will take into account the defensive and strategic requirements of both sides. I may mention for your own information that what Pakistan is most anxious to get is a portion of the forest on the northern side of the Kishanganga river. It does not matter to me whether Muzaffarabad town is given to Pakistan or not.”

Nehru’s breach of faith

None cared a bit for the people’s views. If it were not for Nehru’s pledges, Kashmir would not have come to India. It is a part of India only because he backed out of his pledges. He was no idealist but a ruthless hardliner—on Kashmir as well as the boundary. India has reaped and still reaps the fruits of Nehru’s breach of faith, while Kashmiris refuse to reconcile themselves to their fate. That is the root of “the Kashmir problem”.

There are some 30-odd pledges on plebiscite by Nehru from 1947 to 1953. Patel concurred publicly. Here is a sample of five pledges:

1. “Our assurance that we shall withdraw our troops from Kashmir as soon as peace and order are restored and leave the decision about the future of the State to the people of the State is not merely a pledge to your government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world.” White Paper on Kashmir, page 51.

2. Vallabhbhai Patel said in a speech at a public meeting in Bombay on October 30, 1948: “Some people consider that a Muslim-majority area must necessarily belong to Pakistan. They wonder why we are in Kashmir. The answer is plain and simple. We are in Kashmir because the people of Kashmir want us to be there. The moment we realise that the people of Kashmir do not want us to be here, we shall not be there even for a minute.”

3. Nehru said in a speech at Calcutta on January 1, 1952: “There is no doubt about it that he is the leader of the people of Kashmir, a very great leader. If tomorrow Sheikh Abdullah wanted Kashmir to join Pakistan, neither I nor all the forces of India would be able to stop it because if the leader decides, it will happen.... Since the matter has been referred to the U.N., we have given our word of honour that we shall abide by their decision. India’s pledge is no small matter and we shall stick by it in the eyes of the world ( Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru , Volume 17, pages 76-78).

4. Nehru said in Parliament on June 26, 1952: “And I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what your Constitution says, if the people of Kashmir do not want it, it will not go there.”

5. Nehru said in Parliament on August 7, 1952: “... ultimately—I say with all deference to this Parliament—the decision will be made in the hearts and minds of the men and women of Kashmir, neither in this Parliament, nor in the United Nations, nor by anybody else.”

Nye, the British High Commissioner in India, informed Noel-Baker on November 5, shortly before the ceasefire on January 1, 1949, for which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) still attacks Nehru: “In confidential conversation today General Bucher told me that before Nehru left for United Kingdom he asked Commander-in-Chief to prepare a military appreciation to show the possibility of Indian forces being able to clear Kashmir of Pakistan troops and tribesmen by offensive military action. Result of this appreciation, which has been communicated to Sardar Patel, is that it will not, repeat not, be possible for Indian forces successfully to clear Kashmir either during winter or later when the weather improves . In the opinion of the Commander-in-Chief, whilst certain minor offensive operations may successfully be undertaken, from a broader point of view they are confronted with a military stalemate. I think it follows from this that the possibility of war between the two dominions breaking out as a result of successful military operations in Kashmir penetrating into Pakistan, is improbable.

Commander-in-Chief informed Sardar Patel that the only effective military steps which could be taken to deal with the Pakistan troops in Kashmir was by attacking their bases in Pakistan itself, a course which would lead tounrestricted warfare with all its dire consequences and one which could not therefore be contemplated. With this view Sardar Patel agreed. ” The BJP’s hero was privy to the ceasefire.

In the first week of November 1948, addressing a special convocation of the Nagpur University, the Sardar declared that after the creation of a separate State for Muslims, those who remained in the Indian Union were all Indians, irrespective of caste or creed; it was “sheer narrow-mindedness”, he said, for Hindus to suppose that the present government was partial towards Muslims and that Hindu culture was in danger. There was at present, he continued, a “vacancy” for the leadership of Asia, and if India made herself strong that leadership would naturally devolve on her. The dream persists still.

Deputy High Commissioner Alexander Symor wrote to Noel-Baker on October 5: “This week’s Janata , the official Socialist organ, has an article on this subject by one of their leaders Achyut Patwardhan.”

Janata is still growing strong. It is published from Bombay. Its editor is Dr G.G. Parikh, a committed socialist and follower of its founder, Jayaprakash Narayan. This volume, like all the others, is superbly edited. It serves as a model for editors of collections of documents.


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